Sapa is small town in northern Vietnam surrounded by mist filled rice paddies carved into mountain sides. It is also the one and only time so far that we’ve felt cold during our travels. It dropped 30 degrees (F) which makes a dramatic difference when you’re used to hot humid weather everday. It has a ski resort type vibe, mist covered mountains, cool air and because most shops are filled with North Face hiking gear (which you never see a local wearing). There are some nice restaurants, cafes and a market on the tourist main strip and locals set up on the sidewalks with plenty of goods worth bargaining for.
We took a passenger ferry from Halong City to Cat Ba Island, it cost $3/£2 per person and it’s one of our best buys yet. The ferry only takes an hour, journeys through the 100 islands of Halong Bay with the sun shinning and birds flying, all at a fraction of the cost of the tourist boats most people take. You won’t get a better ferry ride than this.
We spent a few days in Hanoi, the Capitol of Vietnam and the second biggest city after Ho Chi Minh City. We stayed in the Old Quarter of Hanoi which is the primary location of travellers because of its central location, various eateries and drinking holes. It’s a nice city with a lake and plenty of other sights, shopping and overall indulgences.
We caught the train from Hue, it was a pretty comfortable ride and only took about 4 hours. We had read that there isn’t much to do or see in Dong Hoi, but we were surprised how nice the river front was. It’s dominated by, what we kept calling the rainbow bridge because of the multicoloured lights flashing away through the night like a disco on acid.
The 17hr bus journey wasn’t really all that bad…except for one Vietnamese guy talking incredibly loud on his phone several times and another guy snoring so loud I had to put in ear plugs. This time we were on the top deck, which meant we got swung about more, feeling every turn. Sometimes it even felt like the bus was going to topple over. We arrived in Hoi An at 7am and within moments there was a woman trying to get us to come to her shop where we could get clothes tailor made. We headed to the local market to try some local delights for breakfast before going to our hotel for a little rest.
From Saigon we caught a bus to Mui He a small coastal beach town about 5hrs drive away. This bus journey was unlike any other, it seems Vietnam have nailed bus traveling…Why? The seats are horizontal! Known as sleeper buses, most private bus journeys are like flying first class. You can stretch your legs out, cover up with a blanket and catch some Z’s with ease. These buses are a million miles from the bus journeys in Cambodia.
HCMC was way bigger than either of us expected for some reason. We arrived overland from Phnom Penh Cambodia. The bus ride all in all was okay, no complaints. It was a bit funny though crossing the border. They made us get on and off the bus at two points and walk across the border. It really made us feel like illegal aliens…except for the fact that we didn’t have to hide and sneak across and we already had our visa permission from the Vietnamese government to enter the country.
We arrived for the first time to a new country on our trip by land. Going through border control was pretty straight forward. The bus from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to HCMC did have one delay and was another first for us – paying the corrupt police to let us pass a stretch of road. Each passenger had to pay the law man a dollar each, we had heard about the corrupt police here but this was first real experience of it.